The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) and the provincial government have not been at the negotiating table since the middle of August.

The dispute centres around how optometrists are reimbursed by the province for OHIP-related care. The province currently pays $44.65 per exam, which Salaba says isn’t enough. In 1989, the province paid $39.15 per exam. OAO is asking the province to increase the amount that they cover per exam.

OAO’s President Dr. Sheldon Salaba tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom that the government didn’t reach out until shortly before the September 1st deadline OAO set as when they would withdraw Ontario Health Insurance Policy (OHIP) covered care for children, adults with medical conditions, and seniors. “Not much has changed since the end of August,” Salaba goes on to say.

The withdrawal of services, Salaba says, was done out of “desperation” and was a “last resort” in hopes it would push the government into action. “We’re shocked the government is letting this go on for the amount that they are,” Salaba goes on to say.

He’s reassuring those in need of eye care, that their local optometrist will not forget about them. “We will ensure (they’re) able to navigate the healthcare system and get to an appropriate healthcare provider,” Salaba says, adding they will be seen in emergency cases.

The government has since made a $39 million payment to Ontario’s optometrists for work done over the past decade.

Salaba says the process wasn’t well organized and “created a mess.” He says 22 optometrists wrote to the Ministry of Health in advance of payments being made saying they don’t consent to the money being put in their accounts.

“We really wanted the government to keep that money and use it towards a sustainable system in the future,” Salaba says.

Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, released a statement in September stating the government is extremely disappointed in the OAO’s decision to decline to resume mediation, as well as the OAO’s encouragement of Ontario’s optometrists to withdraw services many vulnerable Ontarian’s rely on.

“To do so as Ontario faces the fourth wave of the pandemic is unconscionable,” she wrote.

On October 22nd, Elliott said she was “very anxious” to resume negotiations with the Ontario Association of Optometrists. She said on top of the $39 million, the province has also offered an 8.48 percent increase going forward, retroactive to April 1st of this year.

“And we also want to understand the overhead issues that the optometrists are concerned about. But we can’t resume mediations with only one party at the table,” she continued. “So we urge the optometrists to come back to the table. We want to speak with them. We want to come to a solution that is going to be satisfactory to them and of course, satisfactory to the taxpayers of Ontario because we have a responsibility to be sound financial guardians of taxpayers’ money. And so we want to start those discussions.”

Elliott said the province is continuing to fund those OHIP-funded services for young people and seniors over age 65.

“We are anxious to continue to do so, and they want optometrists to continue providing those services. So we ask the optometrists, the association to please come back to the table so we can reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” she finished.